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Rise and fall of Prabhakaran:

How terrorism haunted the land of beauty

Arantalawa massacre

The death of Pirabhakaran will not only mark the end of terrorism in Sri Lanka, but will also herald a new era of peace and prosperity. However, harrowing memory of cold blooded murders, suicide bomb blasts and killing of farmers in threatened villages will haunt in the minds of thousands of Sri Lankans who unfortunately had to witness these carnages for over three decades.

It is also pertinent here to look into the ideology and the life and time of Pirabhakaran - the megalomaniac who stood for an illusive separate state of Eelam. Although the ideology of Eelam goes back to the pre-independence days as far back as 1960s - 70s, the riots of 1983 July was a catalyst in the struggle for a separate state of Eelam. As subsequently we came to know, the black July of 1983 was triggered by LTTE’s ambush on a convoy of soldiers in Tinnevely in Jaffna peninsula, killing 13 soldiers. The backlash was one of the darkest hours in the contemporary history of Sri Lanka in which large number of Tamils were killed and attacked by armed groups. The goons were not only armed with iron clubs but also carried electoral lists with them.

The fact that the goons carried electoral lists was subsequently attributed to Government’s hand in the attacks on the Tamils. The backlash of 1983 was counterproductive on many accounts. It was the main contributory factor in the birth of a strong Tamil Diaspora that fuelled the inferno at home with its generous financial and logistical aid.

Pirabhakaran has also been greatly influenced by the 1958 racial riots and atrocities committed on Tamils. However, Pirabhakaran’s subsequent killing spree could not be justified in the name of liberation or his much aired aim of establishing a separate state for Tamils in Sri Lanka.

The excerpts of the Indian Journalist Anita Pratap’s interview with Pirabhakaran at the early stage of his struggle will shed light on his ideology and the character.

Kebithigollewa massacre

Anita states in her book “Island of Blood” that Pirabhakaran has always been very secretive about his personal details, about his family, his childhood, his upbringing. Once I asked him to tell me what in his personal life had convinced him that an armed struggle alone would deliver the Tamils from Sinhala domination. He recounted images from the 1958 anti-Tamil riots that had left a deep impression on him. He was only four years old then. The shocking events of the 1958 racial riots had a profound impact on me. I heard of horrifying incidents of how our people had been mercilessly and brutally put to death by Sinhala racists. Once I met a widowed mother, a friend of my family, who related to me her agonizing personal experience of this racial holocaust. A Sinhala mob attacked her house in Colombo. The rioters set fire to the house and murdered her husband. She and her children escaped with severe burn injuries. I was deeply shocked when I saw the scars on her body. I also heard stories of how young babies were roasted alive in boiling tar. When I heard such stories of cruelty, I felt a deep sense of sympathy and love for my people. A great passion overwhelmed me to redeem my people from this racist system. I strongly felt that an armed struggle was the only way to confront a system which employs armed might against unarmed and innocent people. “

Pirabhakaran was only seventeen years old when he along with a small band of Tamil youths, started the TNT (Tamil New Tigers) in 1972 on the sandy shores of his home town, Velvettithurai. He was known to be a radical socialist and a committed nationalist. Indian and Sri Lankan intelligence agencies believe that he received training and assistance from the Palestine Liberation Organization. He also had the reputation of an excellent marksman. In 1975, from a distance of 200 feet, he shot a police inspector named Bastianpillai as he ran, right between the eyes. The legend Pirabhakaran was born.

Everybody called him Thambi, which in Tamil means brother. He earned the nickname because he became a revolutionary when still in his teens. Soon, Thambi became part of common Tamil parlance. All through the 1980s, his colleagues, associates, supporters and even ordinary civilians who had never met him called him Thambi. People used the nickname with affection as well as admiration.”

Asked why he had chosen the Tiger as his a symbol, Pirabhakaran has said: “I named the movement Liberation Tigers since the Tiger emblem has deep roots in the political history of the Tamils, symbolizing Tamil patriotic resurgence. The Tiger symbol also depicts the mode of our guerrilla warfare.’ The symbol is borrowed from the imperial crest of the `Chola’ dynasty, a line of aggressive Tamil conquerors from India, who in the eleventh century sought to extend their influence to the territories that now form northern India, Sri Lanka, Java and Sumatra.”

It was clear from the very commencement of the movement that Pirabhakaran did not believe in democracy or in people’s power. Instead he firmly believed that physical assassination of his opponents would clear his way for a separate state. First it was a fight among the Tamil military groups for dominance. In the bloody struggle, LTTE was able to annihilate several other Tamil militant groups including EPRLF, EROS while weakening others.

Although Mayor of Jaffna and SLFP Chief Organiser of Jaffna, Alfred Duraiyappah’s assassination on July 27 in 1975 was the political killing by Pirabhakaran himself, thousands of attacks on Sri Lankan civilians and on economic targets with the aim of de-establishing the country are still afresh in the people’s memory as the body of Pirabhakaran was flashed on televisions’ screens.

Although it is not possible to revisit numerous attacks ordered by Piraphakaran and executed by his frenzied human bombs, it is pertinent here to recall, at least, the major attacks which formed the local and international perception of the terror outfit as the most dangerous and ruthless terrorist organization in the world.

Massacre in Anuradhapura

The LTTE launched its first major attack on civilians in the sacred city of Anuradhapura. It took place on May 14, 1985 when LTTE killed 146 Sinhalese men, women and children in Anuradhapura. The LTTE entered the city by a hijacked bus and as they entered the bus station, they opened fire indiscriminately on people waiting for buses. Thereafter, LTTE cadres stormed Sri Maha Bodhi and killed Nuns, Monks and civilians inside the shrine. The attack was aimed at triggering a backlash against the Tamils in order to prove that Sinhalese are racists. Before withdrawing, the attackers entered the Wilpattu National Park and killed 18 Sinhalese in the forest reserve.

Arantalawa massacre

Attack on the Temple of the Tooth

Suicide attack in Akuressa

Massacre of farmers in Welikanda

Attack on Dehiwala train

On June 2, 1987, LTTE massacred 33 young Monks and the Chief Priest Ven. Hegoda Indrasara Thera at Aranthalawa in Ampara. The group of Buddhist priests were on a pilgrimage to Kelaniya. As the bus reached Arantalawa, the bus driver sensed danger when he saw wooden logs blocking the road. Twenty LTTE terrorists emerged from the jungle wielding swords, knives and machine guns.

They climbed into the bus and butchered the priests.

Massacre in Kattankudi mosque

One of the brutal massacres that LTTE committed was the massacre in Kattankudi mosque on August 4, 1990. Around 30 Tamil terrorists raided four mosques in the predominantly Muslim town of Kattankudi while over 300 Muslims were at Isha prayers.

Prior to the attacks a warning was issued to the citizens of Kattankudi, demanding that Muslims should immediately vacate the town or face death. It was a part of the master plan of ethnic cleansing.

The Kent and Dollar Farm massacres

According to Eelamists’ theory of the traditional homeland for Tamils, it was imperative for LTTE to clear those areas of Sinhalese and Muslims. LTTE argued that government-sponsored settlements of Sinhalese were aimed at changing the demographic composition of the area. The Kent and Dollar Farm massacres were examples of this policy.

The LTTE carried out the massacre on November 30, 1984 in two farming villages known as the Kent and Dollar Farms in the district of Mullaitivu.

At Dollar Farm, 33 Sinhalese farmers were killed injuring several others. On the same day, at Kent Farm 29 Sinhalese civilians were shot dead. LTTE cadres used submachine guns, automatic rifles and hand grenades to kill the farmers. Survivors reported gruesome tale of LTTE killing the children by knocking them against walls.

Maradana bomb blast

LTTE killed 50 civilians and injured 200 when a bomb was exploded in Maradana on March 12, 1998. By series of bombing LTTE was able to terrorise the country, creating a volatile political and economic environment in the county.

Temple of the Tooth

In desperation for a communal backlash, LTTE carried out a suicide attack on temple of the tooth killing 12 and injuring 25 on January 25, 1998. A considerable damage was caused to the Temple though restored later.

Central Bank bombing

One of the high profile LTTE attacks in the city of Colombo. It was a prime economic target like the attack on Katunayake Airport. The LTTE carried out the attack on January 31, 1996. An explosives - laden lorry carrying about 440 was driven into the central Bank. The blast killed 91 people and injured 1,400.

Attack on BIA

This is one of the bloodiest attacks in the history of terrorism in Sri Lanka. The attack took place on July 24, 2001. Its adverse impact was felt hard on country’s economy.

It was planned to coincide with the riots of the Black July of 1983.

Around 3.30 am on July 24, a 14 member black tiger suicide squad stalled into the airport cutting the barbed wire fence and plunged the airport into darkness by exploding the transformers. Rocket propelled grenades and heavy arms were used for the attack. Twenty six aircrafts were either partially or completely damaged. Eight LTTE cadres and three Air force officers killed in the attack.

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